Thursday, November 18, 2010

New Delhi City Tour

My first stop in India was the gigantic and historical city New Delhi. If you want to really explore all of the temples, mosques and monuments you will definitely need a few days. However, if you are on a tight budget time-wise the city can be explored in a whirlwind one-day tour. I would suggest budgeting two days one for sightseeing monuments and one for exploring the Old Delhi alleyways and interesting markets around the city.

My first stop on the city tour was the famous Red Fort built in 1639. The fort was built by Shah Jahan and is still in partial use by the Indian army. The fort is very beautiful and you can see traditional Indian architecture including beautiful mosaic and marble inlay work. The landscaped gardens are also very pretty and you can see many local birds including the black kites, rose-ringed parakeets and of course pigeons.
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After the Red Fort I grabbed an old-fashioned bike rickshaw through the narrow streets of Old Delhi. Since I was short on time I just went through quickly on my way to the Jama Masjid Mosque. However if you have more time I would suggest working out a deal with the driver to take you around the alleys and wait for you while you shop and look around. The drivers speak enough English to haggle a good price with and are very nice about waiting for you while you shop and explore. The alleyways are fascinating and a glimpse into the local livelihood. Looking up you can see the crazy webs of electrical wires above your head and looking from side to side you can see interesting local foods (although I would be careful about eating them) and many interesting handicraft and clothing stores.
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My next stop was the Jama Masjid Mosque, one of the largest Mosque’s in India, also built by Shah Jahan. Like the Red Fort it is built out of red sandstone and is beautiful to see in person. Don’t worry about what you’re wearing they have cover-ups you can use for a small amount, I think around 10 rupees. However they are not the most flattering or fashionable: see my bright orange get up below. You also must remove your shoes and the ground gets very hot so be careful!
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Don’t worry though; no one is looking at you- everyone is looking at the beautiful 350-year-old Mosque surrounding you. The mosque is still in use today and when visiting it is important to remain respectful of the people around you praying. I saw a tour group with small children running around screaming while the parents ignored them. When visiting any holy religious site, regardless of one’s own religious affiliation, one should try and remain respectful to the local customs.
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Next stop on the tour was Gandhi’s memorial site. The gardens are very fitting for Gandhi as he was very simple in life and in death is burial is a very simple garden. There is an eternal flame burning and some nice open grass areas where people can hang out with lots of flowers and butterflies. There is also a Gandhi museum where you can learn more about him, but I did not have time to visit. Gandhi is still a very beloved figure by India and is considered the father of the country. If you would like to know more about Gandhi and his work for a free and peaceful India click here.
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Next up was Humayun’s Tomb constructed by the second Mughal Emperor in 1562. The tomb is also red sandstone and is similar in style to the Taj Mahal. It is very beautiful to see and again I suggest walking around the gardens where you can see local birds and many chipmunks.
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My last stop was Qutub Minar, which is a large lower built in 1199. It is the tallest brick minaret in the world reaching 238 feet high. The tower was built to celebrate the victory of Mohammed Ghori, an Afghan invader, over the Rajputs. The minaret is very beautiful as are the ruins that surround it. The detail of the carvings on the ruins are incredible to see and unbelievable to imagine how it was made almost 1000 years ago. The minaret is also a great place to see the beautiful rose-ringed parakeet, which I chased around all day throughout New Delhi.
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There are many other amazing sites to see in New Delhi if you have more time. If you are on a tour bus or have a driver/guide you can also drive by certain places if you are short on time. We did a quick drive by India Gate and the government buildings, but I was unable to take pictures from our bus. Like always I would recommend a private guide over a group tour if you can because the experience will be more tailor made and personal. There were multiple times when I was happily wandering through the gardens and got yelled at by my tour group for holding them up. On the flipside there are safety in numbers and in a crazy city like New Delhi, I would not suggest walking around alone.

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